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In-Space Repair/Service Truck Captures Satellite Autonomously

By | June 25, 2007

      The Orbital Express in-space service craft, ASTRO, captured a satellite in a fully autonomous operation, The Boeing Co. [BA] announced.

      The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-led program performed a five-hour fly-around and capture of its NextSat client spacecraft, according to Boeing.

      The Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations (ASTRO) servicing spacecraft used its onboard cameras and advanced video guidance system to separate from, circle and re-mate with the Ball Aerospace NextSat client spacecraft.

      That test primarily used passive sensors with no active exchange of relative navigation information or involvement by ground controllers.

      Positioned in orbit 60 meters above NextSat, ASTRO followed an imaginary line called the “Rbar,” which extends from the Earth’s center to a satellite and beyond, to capture the spacecraft. The maneuver simulated the direction of approach needed to service a satellite without interfering with its cameras or antennas.

      During the next major unmated operation (Scenario 7-1), ASTRO will depart NextSat to a range of four kilometers before approaching the client spacecraft and performing a free- fly capture using its robotic arm.

      Orbital Express team members include NASA, Ball Aerospace, Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] Space Technology, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., and Starsys Research.

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